Design, Manufacturing, and Small Business & Startups

‘Handcrafted’ over mass-produced

Shuffleboard table manufacturer McClure Tables takes pride in local workmanship.

March 13, 2020
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McClure
Playing surfaces are made of premium-grade Michigan hard maple, with the option for customers to request their own designs for the shuffleboard tables’ housing, or cabinetry, and legs. Courtesy Jade Tyler Photography

When it comes to quality, Todd McClure isn’t playing around.

McClure — who has experience on the retail side of the home game-room products industry dating back over 40 years, both as a buyer and a dealer — founded McClure Tables in 1991 in Texas as a retail business that sold billiard and game tables at several locations.

Over the next few years, he witnessed the shift from “American-made” to products increasingly being churned out by low-skilled labor in Taiwan and China and sold on eBay at prices that were comparable to the price a retailer such as himself would pay before turning around and adding the markup.

This fast-and-cheap approach sacrificed quality, he noticed, and he wanted to do something about that.

In 2009, he changed his business model to manufacturing and direct online sales and relocated his company to greater Grand Rapids — the historic furniture capital of the United States — counting on the fact that keeping in-house control of the processes from start to finish would ensure him a stable enough customer base to build a healthy business.

McClure was right.

Eleven years later, McClure Tables offers a thriving “handcrafted” line of shuffleboard tables with playing surfaces that are made of premium-grade Michigan hard maple, with the option for customers to request their own designs for the shuffleboard tables’ housing, or cabinetry, and legs. The thick hardwood playing boards are finished with a durable hard polyester finish and warrantied for a lifetime at home or five years for commercial applications.

The handcrafted tables run anywhere from about $4,000 to $7,000-plus, which McClure said is equivalent to what customers might pay in a retail store, only with higher quality.

The company also offers a wholesale sideline, with shuffleboard tables starting at $1,995 whose playing surfaces are made from softer woods coated in epoxy for durability.

For both sides of the business, McClure sells tables directly to the end user — usually high-end homeowners, but sometimes to restaurant, bar, hotel and corporate clients — online at mccluretables.com.

In the past, shuffleboard tables were phased out of the arcade bar and restaurant scene for space reasons, but now, McClure said the game is seeing a “massive resurgence” in home theater rooms and company break rooms.

McClure Tables has sold tables all over the U.S. and throughout the world, including in Israel, England, Amsterdam, Russia, Australia, Japan, France, Hawaii, Taiwan, New Zealand and Bora Bora.

At the heart of a shuffleboard table is the playing surface, McClure said, and that necessitates a butcher block that is 3 inches thick and 12 to 22 feet in length, which requires expertise in hardwood glue-up and processing equipment.

In addition to McClure and an administrative staff member, Sam Mol, the company employs four woodworkers who do everything by hand — rather than using AutoCAD programs like many shops do — in a 24,000-square-foot plant at 6661 Roger Drive in Jenison that’s part of a larger McClure-owned 38,000-square-foot building.

The team at McClure is able to produce about 20 to 25 tables a month while also building up its inventory of wholesale tables for stock.

McClure said most other shuffleboard manufacturers only make the cabinet housing and purchase the playing boards from butcher block experts, but he wanted more hands-on control of the whole process.

“We’re not trying to be the biggest; we’re trying to be the best,” he said. “If I were a baker, and I wanted to bake you a cake, I wouldn’t just go buy a Betty Crocker box mix. I’d want to start with the flour. So, for us, that’s the reason why we want to make the boards.”

McClure makes between 20 and 30 different shuffleboard table designs, including an art deco style called Rock-Ola that is a trademarked version of the original model that was made in the 1940s.

It is not unusual for the woodworkers to use reclaimed beams or timber logs to craft the cabinetry, and many customers request to personalize the designs with their company logo.

Oftentimes, customers reach out with requests to make designs patterned after images they’ve seen on Pinterest, as in the case of a new “eclipse” leg design McClure just made but has not yet begun marketing to the public on its website. The intersecting, curved wood pieces under the table required the shop workers to figure out how to bend and glue the wood in place using clamps, something they had never done before.

McClure said such creativity is a “must” in this business, and he is grateful for the longevity of his workers and his team’s ability to train newcomers on the equipment, the production and the finishing processes, as well as to take “napkin” mock-ups and turn them into reality.

He conceded he’d like to eventually get the business into higher-tech capabilities through computer-aided design, and he also is currently feeling the need to solidify a transition plan for the business as he nears age 61.

But doing things the traditional way in his small, hand-grown business holds a certain appeal for him.

“All of these designs are all in my team’s heads, so I’m a little dependent on my employees, but I kind of like it that way,” he said.

“We are purists — one of the few companies who make boards the old-fashioned way.”

More information about McClure Tables is at mccluretables.com.

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